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Surprising Science

Why US Aquatic Life Isn’t Doing So Well These Days

A report out from the EPA this week says that only one in five rivers and streams are in good condition, and just over half are in poor condition.

What’s the Latest Development?

According to an Environmental Protection Agency report released Tuesday, 55 percent of the 1.2 million miles of river and stream lengths in the US are in poor biological condition for aquatic life. In addition, only 21 percent of waterways were given a rating of “good,” down from 27 percent in 2004. The first-of-its-kind study was based on samples taken from nearly 2,000 sites in 2008 and 2009 in three regions: eastern highlands, plains and lowland, and the West. It used a statistical index that combined measures for aquatic life.

What’s the Big Idea?

The report names as a primary culprit fertilizer-contaminated runoff from agricultural fields, which contains high amounts of phosphorus and nitrogen. Other factors that contribute to the waterways’ bad health include urban runoff as well as elevated levels of mercury and enterococci bacteria. Of the regions sampled, the West’s waterways were healthiest at 42 percent, while only 16 percent of plains and lowlands rivers and streamed received a “good” rating. Researchers from the federal government, states, and tribal nations collected samples.

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Read it at Reuters


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